Thursday, 4 March 2021

Outside the Spotlight: A trip down memory lane with Christopher Parkinson | Captured by Liz

Outside the Spotlight is brought to you by Captured by Liz in partnership with Pocket Size Theatre, this series of articles is sponsored by Pointe & Flex, a stylish and motivational stationery brand created for dancers, dance teachers and everything in between! From diaries to notebooks, pens to pencils, planners to action lists, Pointe & Flex are here to make sure you stay on top of everything so you can thrive in your industry. Click here to find out more.

Coffee at the ready, a gloomy day in London sets us up for today's instalment of Outside the Spotlight. We literally embark on a walk down memory lane, as Chris leads me around Central London and theatreland, reminiscing about the incredible stages in the city he has gotten to be on and the roles he has gotten to play so far in his career. Having worked on television, film and theatre, we go back to where it all began - the stages of London.

Currently part of the original cast of smash hit &Juliet, Chris started his performing journey at a young age. Seventeen years ago (I know right?), he was cast as Billy Elliot for the first workshop of the show. The workshop process took place at the American Church on Tottenham Court Road, and was later performed at the Old Vic. “I remember one day, my company manager came up to me and told me to go downstairs for a rehearsals. So 10 year old me heads downstairs, I open the door, and sitting there is Sir Elton John at the piano, waiting for me. He taught me Electricity!” Fast forward a decade and a bit, Chris is back at the American Church for another workshop: &Juliet. Talk about full circle! “Being with a show from the beginning is so special! And so rare to get an opportunity like that! It’s a new musical, a new British musical! It’s such a dream to be a part of an original creation and be a small part in forming it. Especially with a show like this, which features so many iconic songs from our generation. Performing a Katy Perry song in front of Katy Perry surely was a once in a lifetime experience.”

Naturally, the Shaftesbury Theatre is our next stop, and Chris tells me about the night theatres closed back in March 2020. “I had actually been on holiday the week before everything happened, so I missed a lot of the mad action. My friend played Penny in Hairspray on the Royal Caribbean, and I was loving life. But it also meant I wasn’t quite aware of the situation back home.” The week before theatres shut, the &Juliet cast was facing a few injuries, illnesses and holidays, which meant last minute debuts on a Thursday, a show cancellation and concert performances (read more about it from Alex Tranter and Danielle Fiamanya), Chris is a swing in &Juliet, covering Lord Capulet and May. “I found out while I was away that I could have made my debut as May that weekend, and of course I was sad it didn’t happen. As a second cover, you never know if or when you going to go on. You don’t really have set dates. When I came back home on Sunday, I had made my peace with the fact I had missed this chance, but I was sure I would get another opportunity.” Monday comes around, and the opportunity seemed to be around sooner than expected. “I got a call from my company manager telling me I’d go on as May that evening! I immediately called my family and my mum took three trains to come down to London from Manchester. My agent booked a ticket, my other half did. I went to work early so I could go through everything on stage. And I mean early. I got to the theatre at 1pm, nobody was there and I had all the time and space I needed.”

“We’d just finished physical warm-up when we got the news that the show would not go ahead that evening! Naturally, I was gutted, I rang my mum who’d just arrived at the train station, and she was just as gutted. May is a beautiful character, really complex, and I’m looking forward to getting back to & Juliet and I think the day I get to go on will be even more special than it would have been that night.” 

Not too far from the Shaftesbury Theatre, is the Adelphi Theatre, soon to be home to Back To The Future, and once home to a beloved little show called Kinky Boots. Chris joined the show in 2018 as a swing, and stayed until the closing night of the show in January 2019. “Kinky Boots was such a dream show to be a part of for me. The company was amazing, and I was living my best life on that stage! It was also my return to the West End as an adult.” He made his official West End debut as a kid at the London Palladium, but we’ll get to that! “I remember taking my mum to see the show about a year before I joined, and during the finale, my mum looked at me and said, ‘You should be up there’. Fast forward a year, and I was there. It was such an incredible show, with beautiful music and an amazing message. I’d go back in a heartbeat.” 

Chris has been a swing on a few shows, and being a swing can mean a lot of downtime during a performance when you are not on - and can lead to the creation of some fun projects. One of these is “The Life of a Musical Theatre Swing”. Watch it!  “It was born out of a joke while we were in Manchester with &Juliet. Billy (Nevers) was playing Ex-Wives from SIX the Musical while we were in our dressing room and I just happened to change the lyrics to the first line of the song and made it about being a swing. The response to the video was amazing. Being a swing is a hard job, and people don’t always understand.” 

We find ourselves outside the London Palladium. On the way there, Chris tells me about the ways he’s kept himself busy over this lockdown period. “During the first lockdown, I just tried to keep myself busy and had thrown myself into all sorts of jobs. I started working at Sainsbury’s, doing the night shifts from 2am to about 8am, picking orders and things like that, and got really into podcasts to keep myself busy. I’ve also taken up reading. I got really into my fitness a few weeks into the first lockdown, got an online PT and everything. I got a couple of singing gigs here and there. During the later lockdown, I actually slowed down a bit. Performing is such a face-paced lifestyle, you can sometimes forget to take time for yourself.”

The London Palladium is probably one of the most iconic theatres. When he was 10 years old, Chris made his West End debut on this stage as Jeremy Potts in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, alongside Scarlett Strallen as Truly, Peter Gallagher as Sid, Brian Conley and Jason Donovan as Caractacus Potts to just drop a few names. “Funnily enough, I worked Front of House here a few years ago and it brought back so many memories as well.” Just another full-circle moment.

Leicester Square, just outside the Odeon, is the last stop on our walk down memory lane. When we met, Chris was just about to leave for Liverpool to start rehearsals for Cinderella, a socially distanced pantomime. Live performances at ODEON cinemas across the country were planned, including the tour finale at Luxe ODEON at Leicester Square London. “It feels really special to get ready to do a show this year. I’m very fortunate to get this opportunity. When we did our EPK shoot here, they had the ad on the screen, on all the screens, around here. It was so weird. And they’re massive!” Unfortunately, since then the majority of performances had to be cancelled because of Tier 4 restrictions, but the show got to open in Liverpool and Chris got to life his Prince Charming dreams!

“I’m looking forward to getting back to work and continuing to make the world a brighter place!”

And we can not wait to see it.

This article has been written by and photographed by Captured by Liz, published through Pocket Size Theatre. The article has been sponsored by Pointe & Flex Stationery.

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